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New Route, Layovers, and Racers Set Stage for 2020 Iron Dog

Iron Dog victors Eric Quam and Scott Faeo leave the Nome halfway point amid blowing snow days before winning the 2015 race in Fairbanks. Photo: Jenn Ruckel, Francesca Fenzi, KNOM.
Iron Dog victors Eric Quam and Scott Faeo leave the Nome halfway point amid blowing snow days before winning the 2015 race in Fairbanks. Photo: Jenn Ruckel, Francesca Fenzi, KNOM.

29 pro-class teams are set to journey across almost 2,400 miles, in an updated version of the Iron Dog snowmachine race. That field includes several race champions like last year’s winners Mike Morgan and Chris Olds, or four-time champ Todd Palin, as well as some new faces like Daniel Stang of Nome.

“I think that really kind of levels the playing field, that with this new course, everybody is by definition a rookie this year…”

– John Woodbury

Executive director for the Iron Dog, John Woodbury, says this year’s new 400-mile loop through Buckland, Kotzebue, and several Northwest Arctic Borough communities, will add an extra challenge for all racers. Claude Wilson of Kotzebue, an Iron Dog board member, told KOTZ radio the northern communities are looking forward to seeing all of the pro-class racers in their area.

“It’s going to be a big to-do. I mean the committee, we’ve been getting nothing but positive vibes from the communities that we’re reaching out to, so we’re real excited for this.”

Photo of 2020 Iron Dog race map, courtesy of Iron Dog website.

Young or old, Iron dog winners or not, all 58 racers within the 29 pro-class teams will be spending more time out on the trail rather than resting in checkpoints during this year’s race.

To adjust for this new format, Woodbury says the Iron Dog has added an optional feature called a “wildcard layover”.

“We have such long jumps between our checkpoints now that you know, if there is a breakdown in-between say Galena and Kotzebue, there was no real step back for mechanical work, where someone could go off the clock and get parts or do some wrenching. So, this kind of solves that problem. You can claim up to one, two, or six hours at a time, you just have to declare it when you roll in. And it kind of keeps you in the race.”

Even though mother nature and human error can still prevent a team from finishing the longest, toughest snowmachine race in the world, Woodbury hopes the extra wildcard layover will help more teams cross the finish line.

“Our goal, at least on my side of the fence is to get 100% finish rate, because nothing makes you feel better than getting across the checkered flag, but we think this will help. I mean, we want to make this the world’s toughest race, we don’t want to make it an impossible race. So this kind of a compromise between those two things.”

Besides the new rules and race route instituted ahead of this year’s race, there will also be a slight last-minute change. According to Woodbury, racers will finish the 2,400-mile trail in Big Lake, Alaska instead of Willow, due to the trail conditions in the area.

The pro-class teams registered to run the 2020 Iron Dog are scheduled to depart Fairbanks at 11am on Sunday. Weather conditions for the start include patchy freezing fog in the morning along with temperatures around five degrees below zero.

Image at top: Iron Dog victors Eric Quam and Scott Faeo leave the Nome halfway point amid blowing snow days before winning the 2015 race. Photo from Jenn Ruckel and Francesca Fenzi of KNOM.

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